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"Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines" Review

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Title: Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines

Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nick Stahl, Kristanna Loken, Claire Danes, David Andrews

Written by: Tedi Sarafian, John Brancato, Michael Ferris, John D. Brancato

Directed by: Jonathan Mostow

Rating: R for strong sci-fi violence and action, and for language and brief nudity.


Review by Stephen Silver

It hasn't been a good couple of years for Hollywood's primary sci-fi franchises. The last two "Star Wars" films have failed to live up to the magic of the original trilogy, while "The Matrix Reloaded" was a colossal disapointment to nearly everyone who saw it. Things didn't look good going in for the third "Terminator" film, for that reason, and also due to age and recent box office weakness of star Arnold Schwarzeneggar, and the non-involvement of franchise creator James Cameron.

Despite all that, I'm happy to report that "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines" is a pleasant surprise. Director Jonathan Mostow ("U-571") doesn't try to out-Cameron Cameron, and T3 doesn't try to be the ground-breaking effects opus that 1991's "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" was. Instead, T3 is an exciting, action-packed, taut sci-fi thriller, that gets nearly everything right that "Matrix Reloaded" got wrong.

Where "Matrix" was so full of psycho-babble philosophy and mawkish speechmaking that it barely had time for any action, "Terminator" keeps the talk to a minimum is favor of sustained action.While "Reloaded"'s monotoned hero crossed the line into self-parody that he had largely avoided in the first film, T3 has fun with its hero's established mannerisms. And the unheralded highway chase scene in "Rise of the Machines" is even better than the similar, ballyhooed sequence in "Matrix Reloaded."

Worlds better than "Hannibal," the other decade-later sequel to a hit film from the summer of '91, "Terminator 3" is set, presumably, in the present day. John Connor is now an adult, living as a hermit after the saving of the world in T2, and the death of his mother. But the machines of the future have sent back a buxom female "Terminatrix" (Kristanna Loken) to kill both Connor and Kate (Claire Danes), the two future leaders of the resistance. Back from the future to stop her is another terminator (Schwarzeneggar, playing his third different character in as many films). The two Terminators battle all throughout Los Angeles, on highways and in warehouses, until the story reaches a surprising, yet nevertheless believable conclusion.

One of the joys of the film is that Mostow applies his own skills to the franchise, not necessarily producing a poor man's version of the T3 Cameron would've made, yet still coming up with all sorts of interesting twists on the franchise's longtime staples. Another joy is the treatment of Ah-nuld's Terminator character, an "obsolete model" that winks at the actor's age and longetivity, while remaining a viable hero. It's a tough balancing act, but the actor and director pull it off masterfully.

Indeed, Schwarzeneggar's action star persona has been played out for years, and somewhere along the way of flops "Batman & Robin," "End of Days," and "Collateral Damage," he devolved into self-parody- combined with his age (55), Schwarzeneggar's movie star credibility is at such a low level that he's considering a career switch to politics. The only recent Ah-nuld vehicle that successfully utilized the star's gravitas for comedic purposes was comically absurd sci-fi picture "The Sixth Day"; Mostow apparently learned from that performance, and at no point allows the Schwarzeneggar character to take himself too seriously.

Nick Stahl (from "In the Bedroom") plays John Connor, replacing juvenile delinquent-turned-adult delinquent Edward Furlong, who played the role in T2. Like all movie characters with the initials JC, Connor is a Christ figure, and while he doesn't bring much weight to the role, his interplay with Arnold is an improvement over Furlong's. The female lead is Claire Danes, who last year rescued her flagging career with a memorable performance in "Igby Goes Down." Danes can't match Linda Hamilton's tough-lady strength, but her performance is nonetheless just right for the role.

Will there be a "Terminator 4"? I hope not- the film ends exactly the way it should, and a T4 in 2008, after a 60-year-old Governor Schwarzeneggar finishes his first term, would take the joke way too far- not that I'll be surprised when it happens. At any rate, "Terminator 3" is the most overachieving film of the year, and unquestionably the best movie, thus far, of the summer.

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